San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

(Las Minitas/October/'90 )

Carmen swings her backside's broad horizon
across the rancho's cluttered yard to extort
the breakfast hams' peel of gratitude at the slop
annointed trough ........I push aside my curtain
watch the oddly silent dogs knit the air with her heels

The rooster's long dawn liturgy breaks free
a red tide of sunlight ................floods
around ocotillo ......presses through sty pickets
brands shadow-ribbed prison garb on huddled shoats

Hector spits and ambles stiff-legged to the outhouse
scatters chickens drumming the dirt for morning cereal
clucking softly as wives at a Sunday lunch
He watches his daughter Alicia half run
two splashing pails of water to the kitchen

Inside the store his wife turns on the radio
restocks the shelves .............brooms
a cloud of dust out the back door

Little Mira runs to the outhouse and throws
her brow against her grandfather's leg
He lifts her high as a wedding toast
She laughs ......mouth pink with sunrise

The dawn strokes the land .........combs
the sleeping coyotes' pelts ........touches
the hills' oxide canyons with a rose caress

I swing from my bunk ..........brew
a pot of coffee on the propane
hear the familiar clopping from the road
snort and arriving stamp of hooves at the store
then the sound of a truck gearing down
one hundred and fifty horses ..........and
all 151 tethered and tuned outside the store
last year's model nervously eyeing
the rubber hooves of its replacement

I open the door .......invite the morning inside
tell it to hang its sounds and smells on the coat peg
then through the steam of hot coffee
watch it all glow in the new light of another desert sunrise


(Conception Bay, Baja '92)

Ahead the sierras float in an aquarium of heat
as my eye's lens bends to find and arrest
their molecular impressionism

We have entered an illegal transaction

trafficked the contraband of broiling distance
until this tiny bay hung its bait of shade
in the quavering air below us
and so we descend to its beercan lapping
foam lips under a green twigging moustache:
....... stunted trees on their knees by the water

I crawl under a wide limb ..........hang
my hair on a soft breeze .....close my eyes
inside the electric hum of bees tossing
their net of motion against a
harvest of sweet minnow blooms

For me it's just an act of simple retreat
hiding from a hot umbrella sun
and see in it an echo of time

when one hundred ..........five hundred
a thousand years ago some native
took refuge under a little tree
....... maybe this very one
how old do they get ......who knows

For a long time I lay caught
in the wash of time's ceaseless hum
jungling the terrain with Neanderthals
then dreamily open my eyes
to find the playful punchline
etched skillfully into creamy bark


and four initials ...........cut
deep into a crooked heart


Canyon del Diablo

It looked like a runaway hydroponic experiment
a great rich rolling green field of alfalfa
smack in the middle of an arid wasteland

We had a talent for getting lost that day
looking for Canyon del Diablo
trying to find a waterfall
in 100 degree heat and dust
We were told the falls was so high
it hurt your head to stand under it

There was a lot of sand and ocotollos
and always the mountains in the distance
but we couldn't find the entrance to the canyon
and now in this Eden of alfalfa
I was going to have someone draw a map

The horses bucked away from the van
eyes wide and leaping with fear
The old vaquero spit on the sand
stood unmoving near the gate
coiling a thin rope

I stepped down and said
Conoces Canyon del Diablo?

He nodded..... pointed to the north

Puedes dibujarme una mapa?
I held out a paper and pencil
like offering him a coral snake
the way he stepped and turned his head

Cual direccion? I said

He looked warily at my outstretched hand
launched a stream of saliva at his feet
then dropped to his haunches
......picked up a gnarled twig

Nosotros estamos aqui, he prodded the dust
then scratched a long line
Rancho Santa Clara, he said
making an X in the sand
Lago arido, and he made a wavy line

As he talked I thought how curious
trusting to dust what he refused
to allow a page and pencil
but he was an old man
and the land was all he really knew
He took his food from it
slept on it....... danced on it
He made love on it and wept on it
And he embraced it with the countless
furrows of his cracked skin
So it was only natural
when he wanted a thing to be understood
it was the land itself that would tell it
just as it told him everything he now knew

I copied the map onto the paper
It wasn't much different from the one I had
but somehow the ageless device
of carving landmarks into earth
seemed to make the knowledge more graspable

Before we left I mentioned the waterfalls
Hay una cascada alli? I asked him
The old man spit and lifted his shoulders
pretending not to understand

We found the canyon without looking at the map
and after two hours climbing stones and boulders
stood at the trickling source of a seven inch falls

and I marvelled to think the old vaquero
was down there in the valley
somehow knowing where I was
.......knowing the need to hurt my head on water

he standing on his map
.....on his Canyon del Diablo
just as hot and dry
......and sliding off his dusty shoe,
a thin stream of spittle

....................Baja, 1987


This hour's shadows are hard edged, dark as tinted glass
and everything sun-side of the long hot projections
glares to make the eye screw shut like the end of an orange
Blonde sand wears a lid of baker's apron sunlight
brighter than the sky ........eager for a hawk's constellation
Under the ramada mercury pants from its long climb
pioneering the glass chimney to its furthest recess

A woman sleeps in the arched arms of a small breeze
Heat has denatured the frail adhesive of her will
Her thoughts have become unstuck .........gently lift away
She has escaped the heat to a wide wind-swept terrace
two thousand miles away
..................................another time
.......................................................another country

Now she sees the sails of distant boats ........hears
bright flags beating ...........small children ringing like bells
Overhead seagulls innoculate the wind with their stark cries
Grass green as growth springs against her naked feet
A great clear sky trembles at the end of its reach
The ocean's bouquet dances its maypole ribbons around her

She gathers it all to herself
................this texture
................................this true memory
pulls it like a breeze through the warm threads of her hair

Now there is no breeze but only heat ..........dry and rattling
She wakes ...............takes in the world by sitting up

A scorpion tickles across the sand toward a shady bush

..........slowly remembering
.........................she lifts her hand and
shakes the tangled fragrance from her hair

Mexico '85


Stars parade myths behind a gibbous moon
above this beachhead where a war rages
A shower of light heralds a report
that drums the air with flint-like urgency
Another, and again another as the night
throws open a dozen flaming windows, startles
the surf to freeze its serpentine advance

"Look out!" cries a voice as a short quick volley
paddles the sand near premonished feet
They dance the jig of fear toward an open tent

This primtive surgery opens the air all night
then diminishes to a tender, raw silence
Later there are sounds of decampment, equipment
rattling the tactical withdrawal away from the beach

At sunrise I pick my way through half-buried slag
dig my toe into the sand, turn an empty husk
Sky-rockets, Roman candles, fire crackers
sand-dappled beer and wine bottles, still damp
tilt in the grit like stoically ceded casualties

It is the same with every long weekend holiday
Battalions of shouting tumble-haired students
converge on this beach to shatter constellations
like crystals with their tourist toy weapons

and always leave behind this trashy inheritance
the refuse of a ridiculous straw war against boredom

Veteran's Day
Baja/Mexico '85

(San Felipe, 1985)

under a church of stars
.......... air as still as its own photograph
we closed the trailer door and tried to sleep

but three hours later sat up
like two last matches in a book
eyes gripped by the ambush
of a lunatic wind

what is it ...........you ask
your voice an umbrella
not fast enough to open
only the wind ........I assure you
listening to the lid of the sky
flap against the roof of our trailer

outside the sand is a choir
searching for the note that mends the ear
inside it is cheap champagne
poured from a stranger's hat

I tell you only the wind
can say its name with such importance
but because only the wind can quiet a voice
you are silent
............ too afraid to touch me
and like the final domino ..........wait
wait for that last .............gentle
........................ push


(San Felipe, 1985)

slanting down the Sierra San Pedro Martir
the land cracks and splits
loosens itself to sand and dust
gutters into the Sea of Cortez

the sun works its heat here
and with a servant wind
shapes and broils the horizon
until jagged and hard as steel
it can saw through the blue
porcelain of its own lid

this land is alive with surveillance
behind every barb and twig
new movements are acknowledged
calculated and weighed
and the question of their content
is answered when they are judged to be alive

water is the desert's true industry and quest
in this place where even air
consumes itself with the search
the living have learned to protect their dank

some stitch claws and leather around their dampness
or hood their sap with plates and wings
others venom the clasps of their necklace bodies
or bury their juice under thorny gimlets
all seek to converge upon the unguarded spittle

at night we hold close
coyotes slide shadows across arroyos
press dusty nebs into empty tins
now a soft scratch against the trailer

I turn up the lamp
draw yet another blanket
across the precious serums of our skins


This place never knows the seasonal
green torch of Spring ...........or
smothering white glove of Winter

Its ruts and cracks stretch a baked
face beneath a blaze of blue
and wears a confection of dust
that tempts the rub of a damp finger

Even the dandelion-bursting breath
the rolls the fractal brittlebush
won't unobscure the dusty rocks

At night a crease of coyotes calls
down the yellow moon from the hills
while accordions of cacti exhaust
their green chimneys trying to prick
stars into the night's black blanket

A dodging of bats ignites the sky
with a hundred dark flames
smothering fuel from the air
like nervous pickpockets on a highwire

Two sidewinders siddle their S's
into wavefronts of sandy ribbons
seeking the infrared heart
of their next victim calorie

Hours after a wallow of color
pushes forward the prominade hills
there is stillness of completion
..........................without replacement
a wisdom of removal
.......like a mother letting go her child's hand

What stands alone
........must show the things it knows

And this place
........knows no ending

San Felipe, Nov. 2004